By the Editor
Within the next few days, millions of people in the western world will celebrate Christmas, followed a week later by the New Year. In most countries, Christmas comes on December 25, but in a few (mostly those located in Eastern Europe and Asia Minor) Christmas comes on January 7. This difference is due to the fact that most branches of the Eastern and Russian Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar for setting their religious feast days.
But not Jehovah’s Witnesses. They don’t celebrate Christmas in December or January. Nor do they celebrate in October, the month they claim was actually the time of Jesus’ birth.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas or the New Year. Witnesses don’t put up and decorate trees, do not exchange gifts, they sing no carols, send no seasonal cards, and have no parties. They will not wish anyone “A Merry Christmas” or “A Happy New Year!” While Jehovah’s Witnesses may believe in Jesus Christ, they do not believe in Christmas.
Witnesses proclaim that they are the only “true Christians,” but they never celebrate the birth of their Founder and Savior. In fact, they consider the very practice of celebrating anyone’s birthday to be “an evil practice” and “heathen.” Jehovah’s Witnesses caught celebrating any holidays can expect to be excommunicated and shunned by other JWs.
The origins of Christmas…
During the year (1951) that my family converted and became Jehovah’s Witnesses, my father decided that we would celebrate one last Christmas and then give up the holiday forever. Since we would never again celebrate Christmas or birthdays, Dad decided to bend the rules that one last time so that he could give me a bicycle (that he’d bought months before) as one last special present. My very last Christmas gift was the only bicycle I ever had and was my only means of transportation until I could afford to buy my first automobile – nearly ten years later.
The most difficult thing about not celebrating Christmas for me was trying to explain “why I didn’t” to my non-Witness friends. Schoolmates would look at me like I was an alien and then ask, “What? Don’t you believe in God or Jesus? What? Are you a weirdo or something?” Even at that age I had a pretty tough skin, but constantly trying to explain our situation and beliefs became something of a chore every school year. After a while I just wrote their comments and questions off as a form of “persecution.”
After that 1951 holiday season my family never again celebrated Christmas. Dad once told me that he still felt guilty about our celebrating that one last time, but he figured Jehovah would judge him for his other good works and maybe give him a pass on his one last “sin.”
My first wife was raised Catholic, but converted to being a Jehovah’s Witness shortly after we got married. So Christmas had been very much a part of her life growing up and was still important to her family. I left the Witnesses a few years later, but she continued going to the Kingdom Hall. Every year she and our daughters would get presents from her Catholic family, so we celebrated a kind of “pseudo-Xmas” each year. I finally decided (as “head of the household”) that I wanted my daughters to have a “normal childhood,” able to enjoy Christmas and their birthdays like other children their age.
Looking back, I sincerely believe that deep down, and despite her protests, that my wife was happy that I took that position. It made our family’s lives a lot more conventional and even seemed to reduce the initial opposition of her parents to our marriage. We just didn’t mention my decision to my JW parents or family.
Although my first wife and I divorced in the early 1970s, we’ve been relatively good friends over the years. She left the Witnesses just before the 1975 debacle, and eventually returned to her family’s Catholic faith. For me, the best thing to happen was that my three adult daughters have few memories of those times and none of them became Jehovah’s Witnesses. They all enjoy the holidays, and most years their families gather for birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. My grandchildren have no idea what life without Christmas or birthdays would be like. In fact, one of my granddaughters has been a dancer in a semi-professional performance of “The Nutcracker Ballet” for several years.
How to save some money during the holiday season…
I understand why the Watchtower teaches that Christmas is based on pagan feasts and celebrations. While I agree that many of our holidays may have ancient antecedents, that does not mean those holidays carry the same significance to our modern cultures. What Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t seem to understand is that in our society no one actually worships or even mentions any pagan gods during the holidays. We don’t sacrifice our babies to Baal (or live animals to Jehovah) in our churches or back yards. We don’t celebrate birthdays by decapitating anyone.
Holidays have simply become part of our secular culture. They are days that we don’t have to go to work, allowing us to spend some time with family, neighbors and co-workers for a little recreation and some good times.
It is true that for many people there is still a religious significance to the Christmas and Easter holidays. If the holidays draw people toward more spiritual events, so be it. Maybe that’s even a good thing for those of us who have no inclination toward things spiritual during the rest of the year.
Over the years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have clearly been moving away from recognition of Jesus as their savior and mediator. They will certainly deny such a charge and argue with you on this subject, but their own publications have moved the Governing Body and their ephemeral “faithful and discreet slave class” into Jesus’ position as “only mediator.” This transition began in the late 1920s when the Society’s president, Joseph Rutherford, decided to declare all traditional Christian and cultural holidays as “pagan” or “political” and then banned the Watchtower’s followers from celebrating or enjoying any of them. Christmas was one of the first on the chopping block. As a result of Joseph Rutherford’s edicts, Jehovah’s Witnesses have absolutely no holidays or celebrations – neither Christian or “pagan.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses only celebrate one “holiday.” No – I take that back. They really don’t celebrate any special day. They mark only one day a year as being significant and worthy of recognition: the Memorial of the last evening meal that Jesus had with his apostles. “The Memorial” more or less lines up with the Christian “Good Friday” and the Jewish “Passover.” Even so, Witnesses do not celebrate Easter, the day that marks Jesus’ resurrection. Nor do they celebrate Valentine’s Day, Halloween, or Thanksgiving Day (USA).
If you think that Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate at a Memorial meeting, I suggest that you actually attend one. It’s quite a stretch to imagine that listening to the same basic 30-minute outlined public talk you’ve heard for years and watching a goblet of red wine and a plate of dry crackers being silently passed around to be “celebrating.” If you do, then please do not invite me to your next party. Somehow, I can not imagine that Jesus was thinking of a JW Memorial Celebration when he said, “Keep doing this in remembrance of me…”
Choosing to celebrate the holidays, or not, should be your personal decision – based on your own knowledge and conscience, not because of a decree from a group of old control freaks in New York state.
There are things I dislike about the holidays, the commercialism, the crowds, and the traffic. If a family can afford to give gifts, good for them. If not, no one should feel that they have to buy gifts if they don’t have the funds nor the desire.
There are also things I love about the holidays. Pretty lights decorating homes all over the city. Excited children enjoying their gifts on Christmas morning. Families getting together after months of being apart. Being able to enjoy good food and good drink with good friends. Laughing and tearing up while watching the classic Christmas movies on TV.
So no matter what your personal feelings might be about the holidays, I still want to wish you all…
A Very Merry Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!